Jonah's Kitchen: New Santa Monica Restaurant Open For Lunch + Dinner

By Chanin Victor, Observer Food Editor

Have you ever walked by a restaurant and the sweet scents emanating from within were so intoxicatingly delicious that you felt like you had to have whatever they were cooking right then?

In this instance, the not-so-subtle smells come from the burning almond wood chef Jonah Johnson uses in his kitchen at his new restaurant, appropriately named Jonah's Kitchen. On Wilshire and 26th in Santa Monica, the incredibly welcoming atmosphere of the restaurant invites the casual passerby to follow the scent and come inside to taste the brisket that's been cooking in the smoker all day. The dining experience is all-embracing no matter your tastes. Clientele range from lunch-eating professional types, groups of friends out for laid-back drinks and apps, and families looking for an unpretentious, down-home vibe with choices that will please everyone's palates.

The aesthetic of the restaurant was a collaborative effort between Jonah, his partner Reza, and his fiancé Shelby Bullard; she did all the beautiful plant work. Bishop Pass, a company that understands restaurant layout, also helped create the open concept, friendly-casual dining spot.

Jonah has traveled to Tulum many times and he wanted to recreate the beachy Caribbean vibe of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula with his restaurant. He also wanted it to have a similar feel to the way he grew up. His mom (Andrea) always made their home look and feel both comfortable and inviting and Jonah made sure all these style concepts were a part of the decor. He achieves this through the use of natural materials and a unique look, influenced by his life.

Jonah best describes the style of Jonah's Kitchen as a multicultural BBQ. With the diversified nature of the menu, it would be hard-pressed to pigeonhole its cuisine. The menu reflects Jonah's personality and upbringing and isn't designed to be eclectic for show. He just loved the idea of tasting different international flavors in one sitting. Inspired by his travels to Australia, Jamaica, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Africa, and New Orleans, he cooks with hints of his journeys sprinkled throughout. When they get together to cook, his closest friends and family share elements of their gastronomic influences from Sweden, Peru, Hawaii, India, and Koreatown. Everything Jonah cooks is very haute cuisine. Nothing is simple. Flavors are complex but put together exceptionally well. The care and attention that goes into the preparation and flavours of the food are evident the minute you taste that first juicy bite.

As you approach the restaurant, you'll first see the brightly colored door and it looks like something cool is happening inside. When you enter the main room, you'll see an unexpected ordering area. As part of the open-concept design, a glass case full of shish kabobs and mussels are on display and you order as you would in a studio commissary. Take a number and find a table to wait for your order to be delivered.

There are two rooms where you can make yourself comfortable. The main dining room is a huge area where you can see everything going on in the kitchen and out on Wilshire Blvd. The backroom is more intimate with a bar area and retractable roof giving it an outdoorsy feel.

Here are some of the favorites we tried:

• Peruvian Yellowtail Ceviche, (hamachi, cucumber, sweet potato, red onion, aji lemon, and fresh homemade tostadas) Pair it with the Mint To Be (Tequila, Rum, Mint, Cucumber, Orgeat & Lime) cocktail OR a glass of Txakolina wine, Gaintza from Honddarrabi Zuri

• guacamole and tostadas for the table, quite a large portion and great to share for families.

• try some tacos, so we ordered the Cochinita Pibil (banana wrapped Yucatan style smoked pork, queso fresco, salsa, pickled onion, and a handmade tortilla) and the Gochujang Shrimp taco (wok-seared argentine red shrimp gochujang, wasabi mayo, Thai chile, and handmade tortilla)

• more drinks? order the house special Spicy Margarita OR one of the best Old-Fashioned cocktails hands down. There is also a simple beer selection, distilled spirits, ciders, as well as bubbles. All the wines are a bit eclectic too but everything is within a reasonable price range.

• this is what you are smelling - the Texas Style Brisket OR try the Lomo Saltado OR share Jonah's Platter for 2 with K-town chicken, 2 sausages, 2 ribs, and pulled pork (great sampler plate too)

• all wood-fired meats come with the house specialty Pirate sauce, Chimichurri, Aji Verde, or you can get it Gochujanged (a sweet and savory red chili paste popular in Korean cooking)! The Pirate sauce is a little mix of Caribbean BBQ sauce, Jerk, All Spice, and more that creates an insanely flavourful dipping sauce.

• try the Spanish Lingiça smoked sausages (Gochujanged)

• if they are available, definitely try the mussels

• for sides, we recommend the Crispy Potatoes with housemade buttermilk ranch and the Chipotle Cream Corn (organic sweet corn, chipotle, create, queso fresco) ...oh so sweet and tasty!

• for dessert, indulge in the Peach n' Raspberry Cobbler (buttery, warm peach cobbler, with frozen vanilla custard & raspberry compote).

Jonah himself has some favorite dishes: he loves the K-Town Chicken and the Argentine Parrilla Style Spare Ribs. "The staples of the menu will always remain", says Jonah, "but we always add something new based on what's in season at the farmer's market or what the fishmonger has to offer."

Eating at Jonah's Kitchen is very much like the way his family would eat at home growing up, an atmosphere of lively music and all. Who wouldn't want to make themselves at home in the warmth of this Tulum-inspired, elevated, yet relaxed, celeb hangout! That's right, Jonah is a well-known celebrity chef to actors such as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tobey McGuire. You might see them visiting in support of Jonah's brick and mortar.

After meeting him, it's clear... Jonah is a genuinely great guy who has created a warm and inviting atmosphere where he could cook what he likes and thinks others would like and enjoy. He wanted to settle down from being constantly "on the road" and create a place for families to enjoy a meal together. It's a place meant to be enjoyed by all.

Sharing plates among family and friends is the intent of Jonah's Kitchen, particularly in the evening. Jonah shared, "We're always playing great music a little too loudly, letting the wine flow and celebrating. That's the objective here." If you're not in the mood to celebrate and have a good time, then he suggests getting your food to go and chill at home. However, if you want to feel like you've been transported to a place where you feel like you do on vacation, even just for a little while, then stay and eat at Jonah's Kitchen and enjoy the vibe and the company. Jonah made it clear that his restaurant is open, approachable, and an experience not to be missed. Everyone is most definitely invited.

Jonah's Kitchen is located at 2518 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday thru Saturday from noon to 11 pm and closed every day between 4 pm and 5 pm. Lunch is 12 pm to 4 pm and dinner is 5 pm to 11 pm. There is no reservation system. It is first-come, first-served. You can take a look at the Jonah's Kitchen menu HERE!

Jonah's Kitchen hosted us for dinner, but all opinions are my own.


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